Lucky soup number 7, created by 21 year Island resident Paul Sommer won the first Great Matzoh Ball Showndown at Stopsky’s Delicatessen on Mercer Island Monday night.
“This is great,” said Sommer, who was all smiles. “It all started with my grandmother’s recipe. She was born in 1896 and lived to be 100 years old. I’ve been making that same matzoh ball soup for the past 40 years.”
Sommer’s “light and fluffy” petite matzoh balls in a traditional chicken broth with carrots impressed the 5 judges, beating out competition from Bellevue bubbies like Bonnie Woods and organic farmers like Island Dermatologist Dr. Frank Baron and his collegue Roberta Wilkes.
“We used the scientific approach,” said Dr. Baron. “I used a chicken and duck eggs from my farm in Cle Elum, as well as locally grown herbs and organic vegetables. We spent two days cooking, because chicken soup is a serious tradition which we wanted to uphold and update.”
Woods arrived with her ex-husband Erwin Wood, her son Brien Wood and her boyfriend Brooklyn native Rossi Morrone in a sleek and shiny towncar that looked like a limousine. “I’m a connoisseur of matzoh ball soup, and Bonnie makes the best, which is something coming from an ex-husband,” Erwin Woods said. “When I married her, she couldn’t cook and I told her I’d divorce her if she didn’t learn, so she learned from my mother and hers—her whole family were master Jewish chefs.” Woods won one of two honorable mentions for her number 3 soup.
“In the olden days they didn’t have matzoh meal, so I used real matzoh (cracker-thin bread) instead,” said contestant Barby Cohen. “Mine are a different German style, they’re square and have substance, so you know you’re eating something.”
When asked what set team Stopsky’s matzoh ball soup apart from the pack to win the second honorable mention, sous chef Austin Zimmerman quipped “We bribed the judges.”
Chef Shane Robinson recounted a days-long process of roasting the chicken in herbed schmaltz for the soup. “We’ve used golden chanterelle mushrooms and black truffle oil in the broth to load on the flavor,” he said. “We also soufflé our matzoh balls instead of boiling them to make them light as a feather.”
Judges Judy Chase, Danny Brawer, Lisa Kranseler, Lisa Porad and “bubbe-in-residence” Beth Alhadeff eagerly lined up the 9 offerings and took two hours to rate each dish from 1-5 in three categories: Flavor, Texture, and Visual Appeal. “As the oldest judge, I’m looking forward to having (the matzoh balls) taste like they used to when my grandmother was alive,” said Bubbe Alhadeff. “I know what the real Jewish stuff tastes like.”
Eve Green, Stopsky’s ‘authentic deli hostess’ by way of Brooklyn, New York, also considers herself something of an expert on Jewish delicacies. “This broth is delicious,” she noted, on tasting the Team Stopsky entry number 9. “I can’t vouch for the matzoh balls, though they’re tasty and have a nice texture.”
Though he said he makes his famed chicken soup so often that his family is used to seeing a pot on the stove and in the freezer, Paul Sommer was surprised by his win, and pointed to his daughters Sasha and Lauren as his best taste-testers. “I keep my soup as a simple New York traditional style,” Sommer said. “My secret is to taste the soup when you’re cooking, it’s got to taste good otherwise, why bother?”
As the winner of a $100 gift certificate, Sommer’s family will be able to taste their father’s matzoh ball soup recipe featured on Stopsky’s menu from now on. The two honorable mentions received $25 gift certificates and a place alongside the first place winner in a cookbook published by the Washington State Jewish Historical Society.